Shocked if not surprised

I have spent the best part of today researching and writing about one of the evils of contemporary urban politics, the trend towards surveillance and enhanced security measures in the townscape. Like the infantalizing signage telling us what to do all over the place, it’s a topic you can’t avoid if you’re at all interested in planning, architecture and cities, though it’s not much fun engaging with it. (Note to self: consider retraining as a historian).

On Tuesday there was a talk on the topic at (in?) Laituri, Helsinki Planning Department’s shop window, you might say, housed in what used to be the bus station. Co-hosted by Helsinki University’s Geography Department, a talk was given by a clear, loud and utterly jovial Don Mitchell, professor of geography from Syracuse Univ. in New York State. He did a brilliant job of articulating a critique, in fact, a self-critique, of planning in the USA. Bit by bit, we learned, public space in America’s cities has been given over to the “needs” of commerce and private property. Benches removed from parks to prevent loiterers, private security guards brought in instead of police, laws altered to make it impossible for compassionate shop-keepers to allow rough-sleepers to shelter in the alcoves in front of their shop-doors at night (and this in San Francisco!), laws to get rid of the traces of homelessness, rules on where one may give out or even share food … It all sounds kinda hysterical and gross.

Meanwhile Fingerpori contiues to play with words – today, a double-entendre from the Finnish word pinkki, the cartoonist’s insensitivity to genocide victims barely remembered by anyone, the temperature drops to +11°, some political parties consider making begging illegal in Finland and sweeping it … (er, under which carpet?), whileVanhanen’s (prime minister, remember him?) ideas about how to reduce the number of Roumanian beggars (just don’t give them money) inspire novel forms of political protest: give them money – just to show you hate Vanhanen…

On this topic, at least, some people, namely the Finnish Confederation of Roma Associations (Romanifoorumi) are protesting.

But back to securitizing and cleaning up that public space. It’s a young century. Compared to 100 years ago the problems are somewhat different. But we’re witnessing similar logics of insiders vs. outsiders to what we’ve seen before. The scramble for resources, including space to live, escalates and is adjudicated on with the “help” of identity. Compared to 100 years ago, however, we have the deamons of rampant commercialism and of ecological collapse to cope with in addition to the older worries. This may take some work…

In Helsinki, a lot of work. Despite the earlier decision by the City to disallow the use of the Senate Square for a public concert, something has made them change their minds in the last couple of days. There is indeed to be a fee-paying concert, the first of its kind, in the Square in late June. Arkkivahti is among those who are not impressed. We see her point. Until now only the Red Army Choir and the Leningrad Cowboys ever performed seriously amplified music (and I’m not even sure anyone had to pay), otherwise the space has been for collective events free to the public. Unsurprisingly as society has become a “calculating machine” (as Eyal Weizman notes in a totally different context) it’s not surprising (even if it is shocking) that the Square will charge entry.

Yours angry and sad, hoping to return gradually to a more jovial tone. JHJ


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2 responses to “Shocked if not surprised

  1. Hugo

    Talking of calculating machines, according to mine, Live Nation are paying a less than the average Helsinki apartment rent to hire the square. Apples and pairs? Maybe, but fun sums.

    Average Helsinki rent for apartments, 1st quarter 2010:
    Non-subsidised: 14.30 euros per square metre per month.
    Government subsidised: 10.93 euros per square metre per month. [1]

    Senate Square rent for three days: 7 393 euros [2]
    Senate Square area: 100 x 165 metres = 16 500 square metres [3]

    => approx. 4.54 euros per square metre per month.

    [1] Statistics Finland,

    • JeesHelsinki

      Crickey! I’d love to call on you at a later date to do some sums on owner-occupied property.

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